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Reese Witherspoon was honored with the American Cinematheque Award at a star-studded event Friday night at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza.
Her past co-stars, directors, producers and friends took the stage to speak about Witherspoon’s varied acting career, talent, selfless nature and other accomplishments.
“This whole experience is just overwhelming and unbelievable because I’m literally just a girl from Nashville who had a big dream,” said Witherspoon when she took the stage to accept her award.
The Wild actress was praised for her work both in front of and behind the camera. Among the many people to take the stage to share memories of their friend and colleague were Jennifer Garner, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Alexander Payne, T Bone Burnett and Laura Dern.
“I really thought if I worked hard and did my very, very best, one day I could get Matthew McConaughey to come on a big public stage and say really nice things about me,” she joked. “I actually think that’s pretty much every Southern woman’s dream.”
McConaughey, who starred with Witherspoon in Mud, was the final presenter of the night, giving Witherspoon her award.
“The roles you were the most passionate about are the ones that resonate the most today,” said McConaughey of Witherspoon, pointing toward her work in Legally Blonde, Election, Wild and Walk the Line (for which she won an Oscar).
McConaughey, who was honored with the award last year, added: “When you get restless you create a way. You make it happen.”
Indeed, Witherspoon’s determination as both an actress and a producer (she produced hits Gone Girl and Wild) was a constant theme through many of the speeches.
Kate Hudson spoke of meeting Witherspoon at the premiere for her first film, The Man in the Moon, when she was 11. “That performance marked the beginning of a true star. And I knew it,” she said. She added that they often went up against each other for some of the same roles throughout their careers, but there was never any animosity, only admiration.
“I think we have a habit of putting many labels on strong women. Reese is not bossy. She is determined,” added Hudson. “She is the kind of woman who can inspire a movement. She is a true modern-day feminist.”
Witherspoon launched her production label Pacific Standard with Bruna Papandrea in 2012 with the specific intention of finding more great roles for women, and telling more stories about women. Papandrea and Wild director Jean-Marc Vallée took the stage together to speak about Witherspoon.
“It is a pleasure to be your partner in making movies with women at the center of them,” said Papandrea.
It was clear that Witherspoon was affected by the kind words of her friends. She too spoke about her ambitions for Pacific Standard to bring more women onto the big screen.
“Women are 50 percent of the population, so we should be 50 percent of the roles on screen,” she said. “We need to see more female surgeons, astronauts, soldiers, supreme court justices onscreen — not just mothers and girlfriends of famous men.”
DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg received the inaugural Sid Grauman Award at the event, which is a fundraiser that benefits the nonprofit arts organization.
“All of us in this room, we are incredibly lucky because we get to work in this place called Hollywood on projects that enthrall, entertain and enlighten people all across the planet,” said Katzenberg, whose arm was in a red cast after a recent car accident. “The business can be challenging and the movie gods can be fickle but let’s face it we love it.”
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